William Elliott Whitmore: Poetic Discontent

While still in his late teens, Whitmore moved to Iowa City, ground zero for a booming local underground hardcore/DIY punk scene in the early-to-mid-1990s.

“I moved into town, made some friends, and next thing you know they’re taking me into a church basement to see a hardcore punk show,” he recalls. “I knew nothing of the DIY underground scene. It was a mind-blowing revelation, seeing all these kids who were putting on their own legitimate shows and pressing up their own records, like Dischord had been doing for years, but right here in Iowa, in action.”

But even with all that raucous music going on in the basements and back rooms of Iowa City, roots music was and is the omnipresent soundtrack of the rural Midwest. Every truck stop, roadside dive, and Eagle’s Hall worth a damn from Ohio to Wisconsin to the Mississippi River Valley is ready to scoot boots, tear firmly in beer.

“There’s certain music that has a timeless quality to it,” Whitmore says. “I wanted to make music like that. So I retrofitted the three-chord punk stuff that I was already familiar with and made it work for me in the way that I wanted it to.”

In Iowa City, he discovered kindred spirits in the indie-punk outfit Ten Grand. They brought him to the attention of the label with which they had been working, Chicago-based Southern Records, the US division of Southern Records UK, whose founder John Loder was inextricably linked with the original wave of UK political punks — Crass, Subhumans, Crucifix, and Antisect — and Ian MacKaye of Dischord, based out of Washington, DC.

Southern released Whitmore’s gorgeous, sparse debut, Hymns for the Hopeless, in 2003, and after six years, three highly acclaimed full-length records, and one EP, he’s now signed a deal with Los Angeles-based Anti- Records, home to such legendary artists as Tom Waits, Mavis Staples, Merle Haggard, Nick Cave, and the late Porter Wagoner (in addition to the aforementioned Coup and modern hardcore experimentalists such as The Locust). Whitmore’s latest, and first for the label, Animals in the Dark, was released in February of 2009.

“The songs on my first three albums were generally autobiographical, or stories that had been passed to me from other people,” he says. “My challenge for myself this time around was to push my writing and make it more political without dating things or outright naming names.

“You build yourself into this little self-made box of restrictions, and you realize that you have to make things work with the tools you’ve allowed yourself while peeking over the edge of that box from time to time to keep things interesting. There’s a lot going on in the world today. The important thing to me was how to say things poetically while still conveying how pissed off you are with the government.”

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